A Week of the New, A Week of the Old

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 17, 2017 / 19 Adar 5777

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Kohelet famously notes that “v’ain kol hadash takhat hashemesh”–There is nothing entirely new under the sun. Yet many things require renewal, and that process of invigoration can give familiar things the shine of novelty. Such change helps us appreciate the familiar and sometimes see them in a new light.

I’m thinking of my 1982 Benz 300TD turbo diesel wagon. We’d been running her on biodiesel and vegetable oil when we lived in California. When I purchased it, the odometer read 175,000 miles. Six years ago when we finally let her go, the old thing was clocking 300,000. Somewhere in between Laura and I invested in a paint job, and boy did that bring out the shine. When the sun hit her metallic blue skin, and her low-rev torque roared, everything seemed right with the world. Still, the move from New York to Ohio spelled the end. It was time to pass her on.

Some cars you get attached to. The Beast–for that was what we called her–was one of those. She crept under our skin, even when the hydraulic shut off system failed and I had to pop the hood to shut her down. So we couldn’t let her go to just anyone. I painfully posted the ad on Craigslist and waited for the cretans to come who wouldn’t appreciate the Beast, who’d view her just as cheap transportation.

But God has a way.

The person who showed up with cash in hand grew up in midwest farm country. He was skilled with diesel engines and didn’t mind her quirks. Better yet, he’d come to Brooklyn to make his way–doing what? Bespoke cutlery, custom measured to the size of your hand, and shaped from old railroad steel and recycled barnyard wood. Who’d a thunk it? (Sounds like Portland, right?) The Beast would be loved! And I am confident she is still running. Those engines were solid up to half a million, and she was rust free when we passed her on. All of which is a rejoinder to the book of Ecclesiastes, straight from the lyrics of musician Peter Allen. Everything old is new again.

This week, I’ve got renewal on my mind. I’m feeling it in myself, and I see it all around me at Neveh Shalom. Here are three pieces of new I want to make sure you are aware of:

 I.   Rabbi Posen

 II. Tefilla Lab

 III. Israel360

Rabbi Posen

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Eve Posen! Or rather, mazal tov to our new ASSISTANT RABBI, Eve Posen. I’m pleased that Rabbi Posen is adding on to her responsibilities. As most of us know, Rabbi Posen’s rabbinate has focused on youth and education, including a stint at a Jewish day school in Texas before she arrived at Neveh Shalom. Rabbi Posen will continue to focus on providing our young families with high impact experiences to deepen their Jewish lives. In addition to those duties, look forward to her increased presence on the bimah and at our daily minyan, and coverage of lifecycle events. I hope you will congratulate her on this expanded position as she continues to share her many gifts with our community.

Tefilla Lab

תפילה נאה בצורה נאה

Pleasant Prayer in a Pleasant Form

Our Jewish communal prayer has managed over the millennia to preserve and innovate the ancient forms that we have been given. According to tradition, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each were credited with establishing the three daily prayer services to which we still remain loyal. Abraham would rise early to offer praise, while Isaac found the afternoons a time for quiet meditation. Jacob, meanwhile, was a person of the night, and thus shaped the earliest layers of our evening Ma’ariv prayers.

In Temple times (the second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 of the common era, instruments were a regular and required part of group prayer. The Levites would gather on the steps, singing the daily psalms while accompanied by music. Drums, wind and stringed instruments all had a role.

After the Temple’s destruction, sacrifice and music gave way to the words of our heart and the meditations of our mouths. Individual prayer leaders had a set of themes to express the essence of the earlier sacrificial system. As long as they stayed true to that legacy, they were free to spontaneously “riff” on the themes we now take for granted in the Amidah. Eventually a cotton-maker, Shimon Ha’P’kuli, structured those freeform offerings into the set and established Hebrew words that we still utter.

Once again, we are in a time when preserving our heritage also demands some innovation. We find this in the new melodies that find their way into prayer services of all denominations. We note it in the spread of breath meditation. We even see it as some congregations have installed walking labyrinths to remind us of the ancient garden where Adam and Eve spend their early years. Truth is, the world of spirit has been turned on its head as fewer people have received sufficient religious training to feel comfortable entering the aesthetically spare yet powerful service of countless centuries.

Here at Neveh Shalom, we are therefore introducing a periodic program known as our Tefillah Lab. I want to thank Mark Sherman, who heads our ritual committee and Eddy Shuldman, who organizes our downstairs minyan for their efforts on our community’s behalf. Both on occasional services (what were previously our combined services) and in workshops, we will introduce the community to different melodies, niggunim and other innovations. The goal is to provide a space for experimentation where we can try out what prayer forms might deepen our kehilla’s experiences. Our hope is that some of these experiments will yield results that we can incorporate more regularly into our communal Shabbat spirituality, even as they remain true to the ancient prayer forms we have inherited.

We will announce when these events and services are occurring so that people can opt in or out, as is comfortable. Our initial “lab work” will introduce niggunim (wordless melodies) and feature percussion. Currently scheduled are two laboratory workshops that will take place after Shabbat morning services and our kiddush lunch.

The first of these workshops will run on March 25th and April 21st from 1:00-2:00 pm.

On April 1st and 29th, Tefilla Lab services will replace our combined minyan from 9 am-12 noon. 


Israel360 is a pilot project of The Kindness Commons ™ and is housed at Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, Oregon. A diverse committee representing a wide range of opinions on Israel has worked hard to create an interesting series that does not advocate for any political point of view. I’ll share more about that committee in a future week.

Israel has been at the heart of our people’s heritage ever since Abraham uprooted his family from Ur after receiving his divine mission. Despite this ancient and central role that Israel has played in the life of the Jewish people, in today’s world, any mention of Israel can be contentious because people arrive at events with preformed opinions. To help us grow past this, and to model the Jewish values of shmirat halashon (thoughtful speech), derekh eretz (civility) and makhlokhet l’shem shamayim (directed dialogue), all programs will be facilitated.

Israel360 is a series of regularly occurring programs that will consider many aspects of Israel, modern and ancient, from diverse viewpoints and approaches. Some sessions will have a cultural, political or military focus, while other events will examine Israeli history, sociology or the peace process.

At each event, attendees will be reminded of a set of guidelines for participation. The goal is to ensure that dialogue and discussion are respectful and that questions and comments spring from a sense of curiosity rather than a desire to prove a position or score a rhetorical point. Initially, these programs will be for our immediate community. As we become more adept at respecting differences, we may open these sessions to the larger community.

Our first event will feature the community Shlicha from Israel, Timna Rockman. Ms. Rockman has served in the IDF where she was involved in teaching about military ethics. Her own personal story on this matter is rather poignant. You can find more information about her here.


MARCH 30 The Role of Ethics in the Israeli Defense Forces

APRIL 27 Understanding Israeli Borders from Antiquity to Modernity

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What aspect of your life seems old or tired currently? How might you renew it?
  2. What old things or people in your life don’t feel old? Why is that?

Source: Oasis Songs: A Week of the New, A Week of the Old